Nia R. Sullivan, Global Mission Intern
How would you describe the mission of our partner in Sierra Leone?
The purpose of Girl’s Access to Education is to support and motivate vulnerable girls with their education goals by enforcing the accessibility of educational opportunities and by ending child marriage, teenage pregnancy, and female genital mutilation.
How do you fit into their mission?
My role in this project is to support the mission by serving as a social worker and field officer in the Tonkolili district of Sierra Leone. I work closely with community mentors and adolescent girls in safe space centers and Boys and Girls Clubs in 10 communities in the Tonkolili district. In addition, I assist in creating productive relationships with social services and institutions that work to support and encourage girls.
What led you to engage in this calling?
Through my involvements as a church youth leader, I was nurtured to believe that Christians should use their abilities and talents in ways that show love, build hope, enhance lives and establish social justice. My family and mentors have molded much of this and I feel called to make my own contributions to the wellness and advancements of others, particularly children and youth.
Is there a passage of scripture that carries special meaning in your daily work?
1 John 3:18-20
What are some of the challenges facing the people of Sierra Leone?
The people in Sierra Leone face a vast array of challenges with the most dramatic being the civil war between 1991 and 2002, the Ebola epidemic, and the mudslide which took many lives and homes. I advocate for girls who experience a variety of challenges daily. Concerning the plight of school children are several issues that impact the quality and availability of education. Students in the provinces walk unbearably far distances from their homes to the school buildings. If girls are not traveling with a group of other students, they are subject to rape. Many students desire to attend school, but are not able due to expensive school fees. Thus, many students feel helpless and ultimately drop out. In addition, during the Ebola epidemic in 2014 many schools were not operating which left students unable to receive a formal education.
Another challenge that hinders the development of young girls in Sierra Leone is early childhood marriage and teenage pregnancy. Child marriage has been linked to poverty, geographical location, and education. 39% of girls in Sierra Leone are married before their 18th birthday. This issue pairs with teenage pregnancy as young girls who are married are more likely to become pregnant. Teenage Pregnancy interrupts the pursuit of education in Sierra Leone because pregnant girls are not allowed to attend school.
What is a lesson you have learned from our partner that you feel should be shared with churches in the U.S.?
I admire CCSL’s persistence in addressing issues of poverty and female empowerment, and the way that the organization does not shy away from offering counsel and direction with respect to controversial issues. The central learning for me here is that church organizations working together to address inequities have much more impact than when individual church bodies address these issues alone. My wish would be to see similar levels of institutional solidarity in the United States in ways that advocate on behalf of marginalized groups.
Which books have influenced your understanding of your country, work, or theology?
- Modern Social Work Theory by Malcolm Payne
- Direct Social Work Practice by Dean H. Hepworth
- Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson
- Just Mercy by Byran Stevenson
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
- Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Job by Sheryl Sandberg